After leaving Bodo the ship travelled north east-ish (a well known nautical term) back across the Norweigan Sea to the Lofoton Region. We docked at Stamsund at 7pm and Andy and I joined a group who left the ship for our excursion out to a Viking Museum. We were met by a Viking guide, who took us back in time and told us stories and information on the coach journey to and from the ship. He did this all in 3 languages.
This area is apparently a beautiful and picturesque part of the journey, however the sun had fully set by 3:45pm so we were seeing it all at night time. Where Bodo boasted the brightest town, we find ourselves just a few hours away in what our next guide claimed to be one of the darkest. Lofotr has full darkness for a month every winter and very short days in the winter months either side. It is from these dark days that our tour to the Viking Village draws its story.
The Vikings feared the darkness. The Northern Lights were also a source of fear and foreboding. There are many different versions of what was believed the Aurora Borealis was, none of it pleasant. Mostly it was a harbinger of death and omen of bad things to come. So even in the darkest of winters, no solace was to be found in the lights.
In Viking legend the Norse Gods of Asgard and another realm of troll-like giants, the name which I didn’t catch, flank the human world. These two realms are enemies. The Vikings believed that the sign of the end of the world was when winter lasted for longer than one season, it marked the beginning of the end of mankind. Legend had it that if winter lasted 3 seasons, the humans and animals would all die and the two other realms would go to war until they destroyed everything. They called this ‘armageddon’ scenario – Ragnarok.
Our tour took us to a great hall that has been built to replicate one found on the same site in the 1980’s. The original Chieftain’s house dates back to around 500AD and artefacts indicate it was inhabited until about 900AD. It had been extended during this time to 80m long and 14m wide. Back in its day the Chieftain would have housed his family, servants, warriors and horses/cattle livestock – up to 80 people plus the animals. (The goats and sheep would’ve been outside year round).Some of the artefacts found there were made from glass. At that time glass indicated great wealth as the Norweigan settlers at that time did not have the know-how nor the resources to make glass, therefore it was only available through trade and at great cost. It was more valuable than gold at that time. As this house is so far north it would not have come there easily. It is believed his wealth would have been derived from the fishing in the area. Dried cod dates back to the Viking era as a highly sought after preserved food source.
Our tour was a theatrical evening taking us back to a time during the middle of winter – towards the end of December – when the Vikings made sacrifice and held ceremony to their Gods to bring the sun back and end winter – and therefore prevent Ragnarok. This was called Yuletide. The Chieftain and his wife were not only the local rulers, but also held the position of priest/priestess and would preside over the celebrations and take responsibility for the feast and beseech the gods for their assistance. (It wasn’t until much later that this ceremony was blended with the Christian Christmas traditions. The Scandinavian’s still refer to Christmas as Yule).
The ceremony was open to all of the villages from the area – up to 2000 at Lofotr. Visitors may have been required to bring food to contribute to the feast, however being particularly wealthy this may not have been the case for this particular Chieftain. The dinner served was a substantial serving of lamb and winter vegetables, barley and a homemade bread. Accompanying the meal was a red fruit sauce and soured cream.
The occasion would call for Mead. A honey based alcoholic drink that also indicated great wealth and was reserved for special celebrations. The honey collected to make mead was 1 months ocean voyage away. The Cheiftan would make many toasts throughout the dinner, all followed by their version of cheers, which to us sounds a lot like ‘skull’. During our dinner, the mead kept flowing and the toasts kept coming. It was a fun time. At the end of dinner there would be dancing around the fire – bearing in mind this all happens inside the great hall. When the celebrations were finally over it was necessary to leave behind food and drink in the dining hall and move to other areas of the house. This was to allow the gods time to come and drink and eat and keep them happy so that they would hear the pleas and bring the sun back.
During dinner we were entertained by the Chieftan’s wife who played a clay flute and then her sister who sang an old Norweigan folk song, and further singing by the ‘cast’. We all joined in the dance around the fire before being able to wander freely around the entire building and see some of the replicated life and artefacts.
This stop was far too short for this season. Our coach ride to and from the Viking Hall would have been spectacular had it been daylight. For anyone visiting this area, I would highly recommending getting off the ship for a few days to explore the Lofoton region further then rejoining another ship to complete the northbound leg of the cruise.
Whilst we spent a few hours off the ship, it had made it’s way further along the coast, and our tour caught up and we boarded again in the Port of Svalbard.